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Field Trippin

Being a stay-at-home mom means you have more opportunities to go on field trips with your children’s classes. That can be a blessing and a curse. I just went to a local working farm today with my youngest son’s second-grade class. We were to meet in the classroom before boarding the bus. As I walked in, I immediately questioned my decision to wake up early to curl my hair, looking around at the group of seven-year-olds and wondering if half of them had even brushed their hair that morning. Apparently they weren’t seeing this trip as the social event that I was – they perhaps get out of the house more than I do. The teacher asked us to all put name tags on our coats – which was fine, but then they didn’t stick, so I had to scotch tape it onto my quilted jacket. It took four pieces of tape, let me tell you, it wasn’t an attractive look.

Next, all the kids had to pair up with a bus partner. My son’s choice had picked someone else. I took one look at him and I knew he was upset. So, I jumped in and said that I would like him to sit with me. Little did I know, that meant sitting where my son wanted us to sit, all the way in the back of the bus. I don’t know when the last time you sat in the back of a school bus was, but what might have seemed fun thirty years ago, is just a miserable experience now. I have to believe there are no shock absorbers back there, then you get thrown around, the noise is deafening, and all-in-all, you just feel completely car sick – how old do I sound? Half-way there, I see it has started to rain – so much for the hair. We finally get off the bus and it is now cold and rainy. Perfect day for a trip to the farm, because who doesn’t love mud – oh, that’s right, I don’t.

As a chaperone, you play a fine line – trying to keep the kids from misbehaving while not embarrassing your own child. So, the trick is, you talk sternly to the errant student, saying “Tommy (names here have been changed to protect the innocent or not so innocent), don’t try to pull that feather out of the chicken,” but then when “Tommy” turns and looks at you like “who do you think you are, you’re neither my mother, nor my teacher”, the key is just to smile. That way, you confuse him – did she really just yell at me or was I just imagining it – and while this thought process is going on in his head, I have successfully distracted him from the feather pulling, while not having my son think I’m being mean to his friend.

As I’m wondering if the teacher thinks I’m just doing a fabulous job as chaperone, though I’m pretty sure she hasn’t even noticed how great I am at it, one of those moments happen that you’re hoping actually goes unnoticed. We were in a barn, listening to our guide, Vicky, who, by the way, got annoyed when the kids asked questions – what’s that about – but anyway, that’s when the moment happened. I am standing next to my son and one of his little girl classmates, when all of a sudden a barn swallow flies right at my head. All I hear is the rapid fluttering of the wings. Now, I’m sorry, but to me when you hear something like that, you just go into survival mode.  Being a mother, luckily you never lose your inherent instinct to keep your child safe, even when your own safety is in jeopardy, but apparently that doesn’t hold true with someone else’s kid.  Feeling that bird descend on me, I immediately panicked, stepped in front of my child while grabbing the other student, pulling her towards me, as I attempted to use her as a human shield. The threat passed almost as quickly as it appeared, and no harm was done to either myself or to the little girl who I hid behind, but she whipped around and glared at me like what the heck was I doing. Once again, I thought it best to use my diversionary tactic and smiled back at her. She just shook her head – so much for thinking I was going to go down as one of the best chaperones ever.

My feet are now freezing, my scotch-taped name tag has fallen off, I believe my mascara has run a little in the rain, and let’s not even talk about the state of my hair.  Just as I think about my working-mom friends who are warmly sitting at their office desks, hair neatly coifed, my son comes up to me and puts his hand in mine, as he excitedly wants to show me the piglets. This is the blessing part. A blessing, even as I have to watch the other boys think it’s cool to purposely step in a big pile of fresh cow manure. The same boys, on the return trip to school,  I will have to sit next to in the back of the bus. And by the way, as soon as the trip was over and the bus pulled into the school yard, of course, the sun came out.

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Because Mrs. Obama Said To, That’s Why.

My youngest son came home from school today and boldly proclaimed, “That’s it!  I am no longer buying lunch at school.” Now, it’s not like he buys lunch that often, but it is nice not to have to smell chicken nuggets cooking first thing in the morning, at least every once in a while, so, this news was a little disappointing to hear.  But to take such a dramatic stance, I figured something big must have gone down.  Was there pushing in line? Had the cookies run out?  Did he drop his tray and cause a scene?  I waited with bated breath to hear…

“What’s gotten you so upset, pumpkin?” I cautiously broached the subject.  “Mrs. Obama!” he cried.  “Huh?  Come again, sweetie?”  I questioned, as this was not the direction I was expecting. “Mrs. Obama, I said,” he repeated looking at me as if I didn’t have a brain in my head. “Well, of course you were talking about the first lady of the United States ruining your lunch, baby doll. Just curious, as to how that came about.” “Well,” he said with a pout, “Mrs. Obama has said that whenever you buy lunch now, you have to take a fruit and a vegetable with it.” “Oh, O.K., now I see. So, what’s wrong with that? It is a good idea. But you know you can take it, try it, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.” ” Yes, you do,” he continued to complain. “She said you have to take a fruit and a vegetable AND you HAVE TO eat it.” I do have to say, I found a little comfort in the knowledge that the wife of the President was having just as much trouble as I was, getting my six-year-old son to eat healthy. But it did bring the dilemma of my children’s poor eating habits back into light once again. I try, believe me I do. I cook the vegetables, I buy the produce, but after half-a-dozen, heart-felt rounds of begging, I give up and forget about it for a while – apparently until someone in the oval office or a relation of such a person, makes me face the situation again – and let me tell you, as a mother, I don’t come out looking so good.

Not only do I have trouble getting them to eat what’s good for them, they also overload on the bad stuff.  I understand we do live in a world of excess now. Everything is super-sized. Even the squirrels in my yard have gone crazy with that. I took this picture of a certain squirrel, on my patio, carrying not one but three nuts in his mouth at one time – there are a plethora of jokes I could insert here but I’m sure you’ll appreciate my refraining from doing so. With my kids, they start off with asking for one cookie, but then they come back and ask for two more. But it doesn’t stop there, they follow you, from room to room, “just one more, just one more, just one more”. Eventually, I hate to say it, but you give in – just to get the voices to stop. I call it temporary insanity and it just might be. I know it’s not right. I’m in charge here – that’s the mantra that I chant to myself in the mirror every day. And as soon as I start believing that, we might actually get this problem solved.

We all remember, when we were younger, you ate what was given to you, brussel sprouts and all, and you weren’t allowed to get up until you were finished. If I had to go through that, why don’t my kids feel the same obligation? But I guess the answer to that question is a blog in itself.  So, I am still faced with the fact that the closest my kids get to eating vegetables is a potato, and as far as my household is concerned chicken nuggets could be designated as their own food group.  So, maybe, instead of once again allowing my children to make their own rules, I should instead use this opportunity that Mrs. Obama has so graciously given to us. Maybe the tact I should be taking is, when the First Lady of the United States of America tells you do something, you better do it.  She is married to the Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces, after all, so if she says you need to take a fruit and a vegetable AND you HAVE TO eat it, maybe, son, you better think twice about not doing it.

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A Homespun Labor Day Carnival

It’s 7:00a.m., Labor Day morning, and the kids come running downstairs excited for the holiday. Now, what I would find exciting is being able to sleep in on such a holiday. But from what I hear, that doesn’t come until the kids are much older. The questions abound, “What even is Labor Day, mommy?” “How are we going to celebrate it, Mommy?” Mustering up all of my energy having just been woken up I respond, “Labor Day celebrates people who work and it gives them the day off.” “Oh, like Daddy,” responds my youngest. And here we go again. “Well, Mommy works, too, honey,” I say with a forced smile on my face. “You do?” they all chime in with disbelief. “Doing laundry, and making meals, and cleaning up after the three of you, isn’t exactly playtime, now is it, little ones,” I say in a voice that sounds unusually like Johnny Dep’s psychologically depraved depiction of Willy Wonka. Now realization shows on their face. They’ve heard this before and it’s a road they are smart enough to know they don’t want to travel down again, so they quickly move onto their second question. “So, what are we going to do?” “Well, if we had a house in the Hamptons, I guess we would be celebrating it with a barbeque on the beach and watching the fireworks, but since this is not the case, I guess I’ll come up with something else.” As the kids get older, every holiday is a crapshoot. You never know what’s in vogue now until it comes upon you. Who knew this year would bring about such a keen interest in celebrating Labor Day. God knows what next year’s Groundhog Day may bring.

But, not wanting to disappoint my children, I climb out of bed and quickly get to work. And as always, I’m a theme thinker. Come up with a theme and everything else will fall into place. What can I pull together in a few hours that will be deemed big enough to celebrate the fact that daddy has off from work. I don’t remember Labor Day being any big deal when I schlepped into the city, working long days only to come home to crying babies – but I digress…

Let’s get back to the first step:  THEME. O.K. Labor Day makes you think of hometowns and parades, which makes you think of community get-togethers and American symbols like Apple Pie. When I think about Apple Pie and childhood fun, I think of pie-eating contests. Where can you find a pie-eating contest? At a carnival. Bingo. I have my theme. Now everything falls into place.

The next step is ACTIVITIES. I start to make a list of all the activities I can imagine at a carnival while I’m thinking of the items we have around the house that we can utilize for these activities.So, I know we have miniature golf, I know we have horse-shoes and lawn darts, I know we have ladder-ball. Then I hunt around in the basement, garage and playroom for items that can generate ideas for additional activities. I find Toss Across.  I find a magnetic fishing game.  A life-size, card-board, character cut-out for photo ops. I add those to the list of activities. Then I come across water balloons. What could we do with that. I guess in celebration of the fact that daddy “works” and mommy doesn’t, we could blindfold daddy and let the kids throw water balloons at him. That makes me smile. This is getting fun.

Now, I move onto AMBIANCE. What else could make this feel like a real carnival. Face painting. Tattoos.  A kissing booth. Tickets. Prizes.  I make a list of things to quickly run out and buy at the party store down the street. And I always like to have theme music for my parties. So, I download Carnival music onto my iPod. You also can’t forget thematic food. Ice Cream. Popcorn. Hot Dogs.

Once I have the party plan worked out, now it’s time to get the kids involved. I go over the plan with them and they all choose activities they want to help with. My daughter wants to do the face painting, as she is the artist in the family. My youngest son wants to be in charge of handing out the ice cream – which I didn’t realize, and good thing he pointed it out to me, would require us to add a mustache to the list of items to purchase, as ice cream vendors at carnivals always have mustaches, apparently. And my eldest son would run the kissing booth, but he would be allowed to determine if he wanted to give out a kiss or a high-five depending on who the ticket holder was, his mommy or his brother for example.  He was also very keen on helping with the water balloons to throw at daddy. But he smartly thought it best for us to keep that activity a surprise until it was time for it to happen. I love surprises.

We did our shopping, collected all of our items and then set up the activities around the back yard. With mustaches on, tickets in hand, and the sound of the carnival organ playing loudly on the sound system, our Homespun Labor Day Carnival was about to begin. The kids had a great time. They said it felt just like a real carnival. And the water balloon surprise activity was a big hit. The kids and I could have done that one all day. Luckily, daddy was a good sport about it.

You can turn any holiday into a last minute party. All you need is a theme, some imagination, and kids who just want to have fun.

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Sure, Deck the Halls, But Why Stop There?

It’s the end of January, so hopefully you’ve all put your holiday decorations back in the attic. Now that’s done, I like to reflect back on how I thought the whole holiday vibe went. And I firmly believe much of the holiday spirit comes from the atmosphere you are immersed in. So, I use the holidays as another time when I can put my latent marketing and packaging skills to good use. It all started out one year with “Glitter Santa”. When I found him standing center-aisle, prominently displayed at Pier One, I knew he would be my muse for many Christmases to come.  From there I moved onto little glitter trees and this year, you can imagine my excitement to add “Glitter Reindeer” to the decor.

Every year, when upon reflection I don’t think that Christmas felt quite Christmasy enough, I think to myself, if only the decor had been a tad more festive, that would have done the trick. Decorating for Christmas has gone from a single tree with a few special ornaments picked up throughout the year, to three decorated trees all with their own color theme. During the holidays, you can’t walk through the main floor of our house without encountering a room decorated to the hilt. I almost feel like if we had little Pier One shopping baskets at the front door, guests would feel like they had just walked into a store franchise.

First we have the three trees: Family Room, Dining Room, and Living Room.

 Then we have the rest of the wonderland.

Why decorate every room? My feeling is, you never know when you might “need a little Christmas, right this very minute”.  By the way, I also had the player piano filling the air with constant Christmas Carols, had my youngest son prance around in reindeer antlers and a flashing red nose during a chorus of Rudolph, made up my own Christmas Charades game, and created my own signature holiday drink.

There may have been no snow this year. But when my family was over on Christmas Day, you better believe they weren’t allowed to leave until they would admit that the joy of the season had fully consumed them. So, did I finally achieve the ultimate height of holiday spirit? I would have to say I was pretty close this year, even Santa would have to be impressed, but I’m not going to rule out possibly adding to the Christmas madness…you never know what Pier One might add to their “glitter” inventory next year.

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